The star of 'Richard Jewell,' Paul Walter Hauser, describes how he got the role in the Clint Eastwood movie and the hardest scene to pull off
- Actor Paul Walter Hauser talked to Business Insider about landing the lead role in Clint Eastwood's "Richard Jewell."
- Hauser said he did not audition for the role and that Eastwood specifically picked him out.
- The actor talked about how he researched for the part.
- Hauser also said improv was done for numerous scenes, especially a big dramatic scene that was falling flat the way it was written in the script.
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In the casting of the lead for "Richard Jewell" - the character of the security guard who saved thousands when he discovered a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, only to become a suspect days later (he was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing) - director Clint Eastwood put his faith in a character actor named Paul Walter Hauser.
With over 40 credits to his name, most of them guest spots on TV shows, Hauser gained wide notice in 2017 playing Shawn Eckardt in "I, Tonya." He stole every scene he was in playing the bumbling bodyguard of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, who took part in the attack on Harding's rival, Nancy Kerrigan. He followed that by gaining "that guy" status showing up in movies like "BlacKkKlansman" and "Late Night," as well as TV series like "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and "Cobra Kai."
But playing Richard Jewell is a life-changing moment for the actor. His biggest role to date is also smack dab in the middle of the award season. And Hauser should receive accolades, as his performance - mixed with emotion, humor, and frustration - is the lifeblood of the movie.
Business Insider talked with Hauser about getting the role (which actually wasn't that hard, Eastwood didn't even want him to audition), the research he did to play Jewell, and how improv with Sam Rockwell on set led to an explosive scene.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jason Guerrasio: It sounds like you're in Thailand with Spike Lee making "Da 5 Bloods" and you get the call that Eastwood wants you for "Richard Jewell."
Paul Walter Hauser: Yeah, I was entertaining a pretty lucrative TV deal and I get a call two days later while we're negotiating and they were like, "Hey, we don't have it all figured out but there's a verbal offer from Clint and his camp to star in his new film." And I was like, "What the hell are you talking about?"
Guerrasio: And it's not like, "Come in and read," the role is yours.
Hauser: Correct. There's no audition. And I felt this is highly peculiar. [Laughs.] I basically had a couple of days to think it over and read the script. The TV people on that deal, they basically said, "You need to give us an answer." I grew up the son of a pastor and there's a thing in the Bible of you can operate out of fear or love, and love casts out fear, you don't have any fear if you have love. So I was thinking about it and I felt fear would tell me to take this money job on this TV show, love would tell me to try to see if this Clint Eastwood thing is real. I turned the TV deal down and then I was still in Thailand for three more weeks and the whole time I'm thinking, did I just make the biggest mistake ever? And three weeks later I met Clint.
Claire Folger/Warner Bros.
Hauser: I should have been hush-hush but I definitely confided in three or four cast members on the film and asked for their advice. I think they all thought I was doing the right thing. There's no guarantee you are going to work with master filmmakers like Clint and Spike. And now that I have seen the film and the reception it has had, holy cow did I ever make the right decision.
Guerrasio: To dive into the character, was the research and prep similar to what you did with Shawn Eckardt for "I, Tonya"?
Hauser: I would say it was the exact same amount of research. It was watching some footage, talking to some of the people who knew him. With Shawn Eckardt I tracked down the guy who turned him in to the FBI.
Guerrasio: Oh, wow.
Hauser: I totally did it without telling anyone. But with Richard Jewell it was easier because Bobi Jewell (Richard's mother, played by Kathy Bates in the movie) and Watson Bryant (the attorney played by Sam Rockwell) literally flew out to Warner Bros. and had a three-hour meeting with us on the lot. I would say the harder part wasn't getting info, the harder part was just deciphering what to focus on for the sake of the actual story at hand. Because sometimes as an actor, you get plagued with so much information you have to pick and choose.
Hauser: I knew I had to get the voice down. Even the voice I tempered a bit. I knew his voice was almost cartoonishly southern, so I had to meet in the middle and bring my own voice into it while still honoring Richard's voice. Hair and makeup was important. And also just loving other people. This guy had a big heart and he wasn't simple minded in wisdom and knowledge, he was simple in how he lived his life. I really didn't want to eat up the scenes, it wasn't like "BlacKkKlansman" where I was really going for it. I wanted you to feel like you had seen or met Richard in real life.
Guerrasio: Jonah Hill at one time was going to play this role.
Guerrasio: He's still on the movie as a producer, did you want to reach out to him at all and talk shop about the role?
Hauser: My whole life I have sort of done my own thing. I rarely ask permission, I sometimes ask forgiveness. So I really didn't consult with anyone outside of the source material and my own warped sense of creativity.
Guerrasio: Clint is known for working fast, when did you feel you got into a groove?
Hauser: I think that second or third week. The first week is always tough. Everybody is trying to find their sea legs. Early on, we shot a scene where Kathy brings the pound cake out and I'm picking at it before I go out to work at the park. That scene was maybe the first scene where I was like, "This is good, I like the beats I'm taking." I think the best acting is when you just see the thoughts on a character's face.
Guerrasio: You have so much time with Sam Rockwell in this movie, how important was it to have someone to act across from consistently?
Hauser: I think my best acting is always when I have one or two people to get really intimate and friendly with off set and bring that relationship on set. So I think working with Sam was an example of when you really get into one another and become friends you probably make the work better. That's my process.
Guerrasio: So you and Sam hit it off before cameras started rolling?
Hauser: Absolutely. It was a combination of embracing our sense of humor and who we actually are. And that helped in trusting one another to improvise mid-scene.
Guerrasio: The one scene I think of a lot is Sam digging at you in the living room after all the media attention and FBI visits, and finally you explode and get really angry. Is that an example of trusting one another with improv?
Hauser: That scene was crazy because there was a scripted version and we did it but it wasn't feeling exactly right. We weren't sure how to make that scene work, but we knew there had to be a moment where I broke. So we did a couple of versions and in between we were literally doing it fully improvised. What you see on screen in that scene is half improv, half scripted. Me breaking the cookie jar lid, that was something I told our camera operator, Stephen Campanelli, "I'm going to break this lid, we only have one of these jars, so on the last take make sure you get it." So we just tried to find it in the moment. I walked away feeling deeply insecure that the scene didn't work. But I watched the edit and Joel Cox, Clint's longtime editor, really did it right.
Guerrasio: Through this whole time, filming, doing press, have you ever grabbed Clint and asked him, "Why me?"
Hauser: I never posed it to him in that exact way but there have been moments where I have thanked him and he ushers the thank you away. Me, Sam, and Olivia [Wilde, who plays the reporter who gets the story that Jewell was a suspect] wrapped out on the last night and the crew clapped as they told us it was a wrap and I just balled my eyes out. I just realized I had this moment of working with some of my heroes. It was very emotional. Clint gave me a big hug and said, "This movie wouldn't have happened without you." I just blubbered. [Laughs.] I looked like an idiot in front of Clint.
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